Photo Credit: Kevin Souza/USA TODAY SPORTS
It’s opening day at the World Cup of Hockey, and all the gloom, doom, debates, and debacles have been thrown out the window. Whether this oddball event makes any sense is irrelevant; all that matters is that the puck is on the ice, and so are the world’s best.
“World’s best” is a key phrase there. As always, the pressure is higher for Canada to succeed than anybody else. They’re the perennial Olympic powerhouse, and while the average degree of difficulty has tilted up, a team with a tradition of dominance should be able to shake such a roadblock off.
If today’s game was any indication, they’re going to have no trouble doing just that, as they cruised to an easy 6-0 win against the Czech Republic.
Right from the start, the host country’s dominance was asserted. While a string of penalties prevented them from controlling the game front to back, a few scoring chances from the likes of Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and John Tavares made it clear who was going to be in control once the sides got a stretch of equality.
Enter Sidney Crosby.
We all know that Sid has spent years at the top of the hockey world, and is inching closer and closer to being one of the immortals. It’s a play like this where you can see why. Never slowing down, he attempts a pass, has it end up back on his stick in an inopportune position, but then nonchalantly ricochets the puck off of Michal Neuvirth’s back to break both the scoring and ever so slightly, his opposing netminder’s ego.
The scoring never stopped from there. Nine minutes later, a point shot from Brent Burns was redirected by Brad Marchand in front of the net, and with 0.7 seconds left on the first period clock, Marchand struck again, winning a battle for the puck before feeding NHL teammate Patrice Bergeron for a buzzer beater that, in an ultimate role reversal, made the Air Canada Centre erupt in excitement for a clutch goal created by two Bruins star forwards.
The rain never stopped, and eventually, it started to look video game like. This play by Crosby to brush off a body check, get to the front of the net, and feed Joe Thornton an absolute gimmie was a thing of beauty; one that truly put the game out of reach. Jonathan Toews followed it up with a powerplay goal with five minutes to go in the period, and as the final frame began to morph into a make-shift scrimmage, Alex Pietrangelo ripped a beauty of a wrister past Neuvirth to give the fans in The 6 their 6th goal to celebrate.
Photo Credit: Jeff Veillette / The Nation Network
The instant-on capabilities of the team were obvious throughout; part of that is obviously due to talent level, but chemistry has quickly formed in a team that hit the ice for just three exhibition games and a handful of practices prior to tonight. “We have a lot of champions on this team who know how to play hockey the right way,” said Carey Price, who himself dazzled with a 27-save shutout. “It shows. Everybody plays gritty, everybody plays composed, and everybody understands what the game plan is, and that’s the reason why Hockey Canada is so successful at every tournament we go to.”
Mike Babcock, on the other hand, wants to pump the breaks on the hype a little and keep taking every one of these games as seriously as possible.
“I’ve been to a number of these events,” said the head coach of the need to stay focused “The team that loses today usually gets better tomorrow. The team that wins today usually gets a little fatter. The important thing to do is to live scared and get better tomorrow.
As for the atmosphere tonight, it was about as electric as you could want for an international game. Right from the anthems, the fans were singing, chanting, and making sure their cheers got heard. After the 6th goal, the 18000+ faithful at the Air Canada Centre pulled out the Ole chant that Price often finds familiar during his NHL teams’ better seasons, and the game became such a foregone conclusion that the crowd noise seemed to become situated, for a few minutes, on an argument in the platinum seats over a fan’s sign.
But it was an energy that this building doesn’t get to see very often, from people hailing from so many different places, mostly united in cheering for a common cause. “It was what we expected. It was fun,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “To have that support, to use that energy is important. That gave us some jump early on.”
It’ll be interesting to see if the crowd levels carry to the other teams throughout the tournament, but one thing is for sure; it’ll be even crazier when they take on the United States on Tuesday night. Puck drop there is at 8:00 PM EST (7:00 CT, 6:00 MT, 5:00 PST); we’ll have you covered once again as it approaches.